(All Album Reviews by Sean)
A band that is indeed an 'acquired' taste, Gentle Giant are not as well known as more obvious bands like Yes or Genesis, but they are no less potent musically. In fact I dare say they are far more intricate than either Yes or Genesis.....
Unique instrumentation is the defining thing about the sound of Gentle Giant. Start with lush layers of keys (mellotron, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes piano, clavinet- all the great classic sounds), add to that violin, sax, vibes, recorder and you wind up with a dense mixture of sound, richer than many of their 'prog' counterparts. Throw in a healthy dose of guitar that veers further into the blues than just about any prog guitarist of the time and an incredible rhythm section and you have a recipe for the Gentle Giant sound. And then there's the vocals....... Unequalled when it comes to close harmonies, the guys in Giant are in a league unto themselves. Words can't suffice when it comes to a description of their vocal prowess.
The Three Friends album was my introduction to the band and I think it made a good entry point. While not as overtly progressive as some of the later LPs like The Power And The Glory or Octopus, Three Friends mixes rock sensibility with progressive intricacy.
The album is a thematic one, based on (as the liner notes say) "three people- friends at school but inevitably separated by chance, skill and fate." It's a great musical journey. One becomes a road digger whoís "Working All Day", another an artist who "Peels the Paint" and the third, a white collar worker- "Mister Class and Quality".
The opening track, "Prologue" is one of my favorite cuts by the band. A pounding, roiling groove grabs you and carries you away and then spins you around like a whirlwind. Odd meters abound on this mostly instrumental track. This tune reminds me of of "The Boys In The Band" from their Octopus album. I am amazed at how good the production is on this LP, considering the year. Everything is really clear in the mix, despite so many instruments being there.
"School Days" begins with a bouncing, fluttering vibraphone line. Almost a renaissance folk vibe for a moment, punctuated by some great Rhodes work. Thereís a lot of stop-start action in this song, groovewise. Your floating along in a happy groove one moment, only to wind up in a totally different one a few moments later that is darker...
"Working All Day" is more straight ahead, though still intricate. Some of this album, like the middle of this song, reminds me of Yes' Chris Squire's Fish Out Of Water album. The instrumentation is similar.
A number that starts mellow and pastoral and then winds up creepy and riffy at times is "Peel The Paint". About two and a half minutes into this tune the tone shifts to a hard edge with a sinister riff. Thereís a wild, bluesy solo about four minutes in thatís more soulful than the average prog guitar-fest.
"Mister Class and Quality" and "Three Friends" are practically one number thanks to a cool segue. This is the highlight of the album. A blending of classical stylings and jazz leanings is what this tune is all about. It's a sound that no doubt influenced other bands such as Kansas, I hear some strong similarities. Amazing how intricate the ensemble work here is! Makes Yes sound like childís play.
Gentle Giant were in a league of their own. No wonder they were not better known, their sound demanded the attention of their listeners. Something the average public just didnít have to give. But you do right??? The listening experience will be a rewarding one, guaranteed! Three Friends is a good place to start an investigation into this essential classic prog band. Start today!
P.S. Don't let the cover fool you! In the USA the Three Friends album has the same cover as the first Gentle Giant album- featuring the smiling face of their giant mascot. Talk about a lazy record company! Look close to be sure you are getting the album you really want if buying in the US. Elsewhere you will be treated to some very nice artwork that isnít seen nearly enough.